On October 22, last month, 13 year old Andy Lopez was killed by a deputy of the Sheriff’s department. Andy was carrying an airsoft gun that looked like an AK-47 and was stopped by two deputies and told to drop his weapon and turn around. As Andy turned around the deputy, Erick Gelhaus, shot 8 rounds of ammunition at him because he claims Andy was raising the gun at him and he feared for his life.
I heard about Andy’s death through messages Max’s middle school sent out mentioning that a student’s tragic death was a shock to the community and that grief counseling would be available to any students in need of it. The message mentioned “the sensitive nature of his death” but didn’t say how he died. So I dug up a bunch of online reports about it. The first thing I thought was “this would never have happened in our neighborhood” and then “Max is almost 13 and plays with airsoft guns and wears hoodies but he’s pale as a ghost and blond as a Swede, that cop would not have been so trigger happy. Max would not have been shot.”
The thought made me sick to my stomach. That Andy would probably still be alive if he wasn’t a Mexican-American kid in a southwest Santa Rosa neighborhood. This whole shooting felt wrong. Everything reported suggests that the deputy shot without giving Andy a chance to comply. They were shouting at his back, for one thing, and when someone shouts at my back I turn around to see who it is. If someone shouted they were police I would turn around to see if it really was the police shouting at me. I wouldn’t comply with orders unless I knew who was giving them.
I felt so sick about this kid being killed I had to go visit his memorial site and bring him an offering. I felt so sick for his parents and family and friends. So I cut some marigolds from my garden, got on my bicycle, and rode 4 miles to the neighborhood where Andy was shot.
I’m glad I went. I hung out at the site for about a half an hour. I imagined all the love being sent out to this kid’s spirit and to his family. I sent my own. This kid is part of my community and his death is more than just a blip in our life here. It represents a deeper problem that is still rampant all across this country.
Before I moved to Oregon there were three gun-related incidents in my neighborhood in which no one was killed. It is a predominantly white neighborhood. When I was pregnant with Max there was a woman around the corner from us who experienced a psychotic break and tried committing suicide by cop. She open fired on the cops from inside her house. Those cops’ lives were in danger and if they had killed her it would have been justified as someone was firing directly at them with a shotgun. They managed to get the woman out without anyone getting hurt.
In the same neighborhood, but in a different house, a man shot a gun in the alley around the corner. He was waving a gun around, fired it, and the cops managed to get the man without injuring him or themselves. If they had shot him it would have been justified based on their lives being in danger (aren’t cops’ lives always in danger? That’s part of the job for god’s sake!).
There was another incident that happened three blocks away on the street we are currently living on which has some halfway houses. A resident of one of the halfway houses started shooting his gun in the middle of the street and – do I really need to finish this story?
Deputy Gelhaus never gave Andy a fucking chance to comply. He fired 8 rounds at that kid and 7 of them hit his body. I can’t get the image out of my head. He doesn’t fire one shot to get the kid to drop his “weapon”. He doesn’t aim to maim. He rapidly fires 8 rounds into this kid and doesn’t stop until he’s dead.
Some people say I can’t know what really happened because I wasn’t there. But there were enough witness accounts to paint a picture and not a single witness account corroborates Gelhaus’s claim that his life was in danger or that Andy was given the chance to comply with their commands. He apparently had 10 seconds to comply, the whole thing was over in 27.
If my three examples of policemen apprehending white people waving and firing guns without using excessive force isn’t enough – just 12 days before Andy’s shooting there was a hostage situation with a white man and a gun (which had been fired) and an 11 hour standoff which the police were able to conclude without the use of excessive force.
So no one can convince me that Andy’s shooting was justified.
Some people have suggested I should feel sorry for Gelhaus whose career is now over and whose life will never be the same. I have no empathy for him. I hope he’s convicted of using unnecessary force. I hope he is haunted by Andy for the rest of his life. But more than that, I hope that the police in my city change how they operate so that people in ALL neighborhoods are treated the same by the police. Excessive force is not an acceptable protocol. Treating Latino people like they’re all gang members or criminals is not acceptable.
The Latino population in our city adds a lot to our cultural mix and makes Santa Rosa a more vibrant place to live. They own businesses and hold important jobs here and raise good families and deserve to be treated as a vital part of our community and with the same respect and assumption of innocence as the white people in this community are.
At least half of the kids at Max’s middle school are Latino. I’m so relieved that he’s no longer going to schools that are almost all white as they are in McMinnville. I love that at his current school announcements are given in both English and Spanish. I love that the school has found some volunteers to help translate things for non-English speaking parents so that they can be included in their childrens’ school experiences more fully. A multilingual community is a beautiful thing.
I wish I could fix all of this. I wish I could bring Andy back. It crushes me that I can’t.